The new incarnation of Windsor Park hasn’t been fully built yet, but it’s already had it’s first memorable night. Not as memorable as we all would have hoped, but a late point that meant Northern Ireland were one win away from qualification for Euro 2016 instead of the three points that would have sent them to France.
The omens weren’t good pre-match, with Hungary winning on all three of their visits to Windsor Park.
However, there were two good omens in Northern Ireland’s favour. It was ten years to the day since the win over England at Windsor Park, and exactly one year to the day since the win over Hungary in Budapest.
That win over England was good, and it acted as a springboard for the heroic failure of the Euro 2008 campaign. A win tonight, would have actually achieved something.
The maths was simple, win and Northern Ireland were through, draw and they would need to win one of their last two games. A defeat wouldn’t have been disastrous. It would have meant Northern Ireland had their destiny in their hands and would need to win their last two games to be certain of qualification.
It was Hungary who had the first shot of the game when a snap shot from Dzsudzsak went just wide.
Northern Ireland were fighting for every ball, the Hungarians were denied time and space to do anything with it.
Early on, Steven Davis chased for possession and won a corner. Attempts to recreate David Healy’s second goal against Spain in 2006 with Stuart Dallas being the goalscorer, but it didn’t happen for him.
It wasn’t the only innovate set piece from Northern Ireland. A free-kick just over halfway saw Hungary expecting it to be played high into the box. A long pass on the ground looked like it was going to set Stuart Dallas through on goal, but a Hungarian defender spotted the danger cleared the danger when his tackle went off Dallas for a goal kick.
Northern Ireland were putting the Hungarians under pressure but couldn’t get the goal they needed, mainly because there were no clear sights of goal.
Towards the end of the first-half, Hungary came into it more. Their best moment came when Nemeth got in behind the defence and saw his shot saved by McGovern, who has kept his place in the team since starting against Romania.
It was all irrelevent, as he was flagged offside, though neither player or the crowd knew it at the time.
Hungary were better in the second-half though Northern Ireland had their moments. Most notably, when Gareth McAuley was unable to make contact from a set piece. A flick on almost found Kyle Lafferty but he couldn’t get his foot on the ball.
Niall McGinn came on for Corry Evans as Northern Ireland tried to go more attacking. There was no clear chances, and defences were on top. It looked like being a 0-0 draw.
It was the sort of game, that if there was a goal, it would finish 1-0, it was that tense.
On 73 minutes, Hungary went in front when Michael McGovern dropped a free-kick right to the feet of a Hungarian right inside the six yard box. There was no time for a Northern Ireland defender to stop him scoring. There was just enough time for fans to gasp at what had happened just before he put it in the net. Windsor Park fell silent.
It was the first goal scored at the new Railway Stand. Richard Guzmics is the name to remember for future trivia questions.
Northern Ireland natuarally responded by trying to get an equaliser. More attacking subs came on, with Josh Magennis and Shane Ferguson entering the action.
Northern Ireland were getting into good positions but the final ball was poor. When they got the final ball right, there was usually a Hungarian in the road. One way or another, Hungary were repelling Northern Ireland away from their goal. They were doing enough to secure a vital win.
Hungary’s free-kicks, throws and goal kicks were now suddenly taking longer.
With ten minutes to go, Chris Baird got two yellow cards in the one phase of play for bringing down a Hungarian player on the halfway line. Baird’s high attempt at a tackle was lucky not to be punished with a straight red.
It was probably lucky for Northern Ireland that it was a second yellow, as he’ll only miss the Greece game and be available for Finland. Hopefully, that Finland game will be irrelevent in terms of qualification.
Five minutes of injury time were announced, as Northern Ireland aimed for one last push. They never looked like scoring but football fans will always believe.
The pattern of the previous ninety minutes aren’t really a factor when you’re chasing a goal in injury time. With each passing second, it looked like being an agonising defeat.
Northern Ireland had one last chance, a corner from the right hand side. It went passed everybody and came to Niall McGinn on the edge of the box. It wasn’t one of those innovative set pieces they did with Stuart Dallas in the first-half, the ball just fell that way.
His shot was parried by Gabor Kiraly, he of the grey jogging bottoms that look like pyjamas fame, straight to Kyle Lafferty who fired home the equaliser, and Windsor Park went wild.
It might have been a draw, but it felt like a win. Hungary were back in the race and Northern Ireland were under pressure. Now they have a four point gap with only six to play for. By winning the head to heads with Hungary, Northern Ireland have the margin for error that two draws will be enough.
It got worse for Hungary, when they discovered that Romania could only draw with Greece.
I said in June that by playing Romania, Northern Ireland and Hungary in their final three games of the group, Greece will be the Kingmakers. Results against them will decide who goes to France.
Hopefully, in just over four weeks time, it will be Northern Ireland who will be coronated.